One Month Down, Eleven to Go

As of this week I have officially been living in Can Tho for an entire month. It’s been a very pleasant month, one full of new people, places and experiences, and naturally I’ve already fallen behind on blogging. Whoops!

Hanging out at an English cafe
Hanging out at an English cafe

So to make up for the missed time, I thought I’d compile a list of things I have noticed, learned (or not learned) in the past month. And I’ve thrown in a few pictures for good measure. I don’t need to do everything at once. The last time I was living abroad I was moving from place to place at a pretty rapid rate. I had to do it all or risk missing out and possibly never coming back. And while I did eventually learn that down time was sometimes necessary, living in the same place for a whole year sets a different pace to my actions. I’ve settled into a nice balance of wandering the city and returning to my favorite coffee shops (or my own house) that makes me happy. Can Tho is not a tourist city, and I like that. I’m not pressured into going on a million day trips, and I can sit back, relax, and do things in my own time. Eventually I will get out of the city and see the rest of the country, but that doesn’t have to happen this week or even this month.

A park near my house (located in the tourist area) plays homage to Ho Chi Minh
A park near my house (located in the tourist area) plays homage to Ho Chi Minh

Coffee is life here. I think there are more cafes than any other type of store here. And that’s not even a bit of an exaggeration. I could go to a new coffee shop every day and still not have visited all of them by the end of the year. I’ve even gotten into the habit of drinking coffee, something my family and friends will surely be surprised to hear. I mean, it helps that they serve it with condensed milk, but still…

An iced coffee with milk (of the condensed variety). Most cafes will give you a free glass of iced tea along with any purchase, even if it's just another drink...
An iced coffee with milk (of the condensed variety). Most cafes will give you a free glass of iced tea along with any purchase, even if it’s just another drink…

The traffic is crazy, until you become a part of it. When preparing to leave the US, I will not deny that my greatest fear was getting on the roads in Vietnam. Traffic rules do not work the same way here, and to the uninitiated, it does look like complete chaos. I still felt that way once I got here, and within the first few weeks I decided to go for a bicycle instead of a scooter. I was still nervous, but it seemed like a good compromise. Now that I’ve been riding on the streets for a few weeks, I’m much more comfortable with the rules of the road, and have even considered upgrading. We’ll see what the future holds, but the idea of showing up to class and not being a big sweaty mess is definitely appealing, and possibly worth learning to drive for…

My fancy ride. Yes, it's the hot pink bicycle. Yes, my helmet is also pink.
My fancy ride. Yes, it’s the hot pink bicycle. Yes, my helmet is also pink.

Clear communication is not always a given. You’re probably saying, “uh, duh Jessica.” Yes, I was expecting this, but nothing ever turns out exactly how you think it will. A few weeks ago I was told I would be organizing an event for the center. This surprised me, but I figured I’d just go with it. I heard nothing about it until a week before the event, at which point I was told I would be MCing, not organizing. That was much better. Two days before the event, I learned I was not as much an MC as someone to manage the MCs, since the show would be hosted by two young students. Again, that’s cool. I was told I would have no lines, I’d just stand on stage and herd them around. The next day I get a script with their lines, and the night before I am told I will actually be speaking a bit. All of this is totally fine, I’m rolling with it. The day of I get a text around 8am asking if I’m attending the rehearsal I never heard about, and I of course read the text while half-asleep, and promptly roll over and wake up an hour later wondering if I had forgotten to do something… I call in and it’s fine that I missed rehearsal, but could I come and try on a costume for the show? Now I’m thinking, “there’s no way whatever they have will fit me” because I happen to be a bit wider than your average Vietnamese woman. And, of course, my prediction is correct. The white dress they have picked out is just too small, and when that’s when I’m asked if I have anything suitable for the event that will make me look like a fairy. Yes, a fairy. Why am I supposed to look like a fairy? I have no idea. Do I have any fairy-like clothes? No, not really… So I go home and spend some time putting the most fairy-like outfit together that I can manage, and I’m pretty much drawing a blank. My only reference is that long, white dress they tried to give me, and I have nothing remotely like it. In the end, I grabbed a few options, put on my longest skirt and a lacy white top, and kept my fingers crossed something would work out. When I arrive I’m told they’ve found me a new dress – it’s a very nice white dress that looks like something I’d wear to an office party. This is a fairy costume? When I come out everyone tells me I look just like a fairy, and then it clicks. I was never being asked to wear a costume, I was simply being told I looked pretty and fairy-like, or I would if they could get the right outfit. Communication is hard sometimes, but it keeps life interesting.

The final outfit - onstage with one of my co-hosts.
The final outfit – onstage with one of my co-hosts.

Teaching can be fun, and my students are great. While I never really imagined myself teaching for more than a year or two, I have to say that the past month has definitely been fun. I like teaching university students and teens, and my fellow teachers have all been awesomely friendly. I’m not saying I think this is my calling in life, but it’s not so bad at all.

The view from my teacher's desk.
The view from my teacher’s desk.

Meeting new people is awesome. For me, this year was all about a new beginning. This meant a new place, new job, and new friends. While I’m not exactly the most outgoing girl at a party, I’ve really liked meeting new people here, both fellow foreign teachers and Vietnamese students and coworkers. I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers and my new friends. I’ve had a pretty good first month here, and that would not be the case if not for the people I’ve met.

Check it out - a Vietnamese dachshund!
Check it out – a Vietnamese dachshund!

So those are my thoughts. Nothing to prolific or life changing, but they’re my thoughts all the same. And now, I’m off to meet some friends at a rooftop bar. If it doesn’t rain, I hope to get a lovely view of the city at night. Maybe I’ll even remember to take a picture this time! Until next time.

Living the good life at the "rustic cafe"
Living the good life at the “rustic cafe”

PS – Oh yeah, did I mention that I happened to meet a fellow St. Louisan and Jew here in Can Tho? We got together with some other foreign teachers and celebrated Rosh Hashanah. Here’s photographic proof, since I know nobody would believe me otherwise.

Foreign teachers celebrating Rosh Hashana
Foreign teachers celebrating Rosh Hashana

Shana Tova!

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